On a recent trip in my small travel trailer, parked at an RV campground, I was walking my Iggy for some exercise. One of the neighboring campers asked what type of dog she was. “An Italian Greyhound,” I gladly replied, prepared to answer the normal questions: No, she was not a Greyhound puppy, and yes, she was full-grown.
Instead of being asked these common questions, the fellow camper said, “She sure prances.” “Thank you,” I replied, continuing my walk while contemplating that stated observation. No, the IG does not “prance,” but to a person not familiar with the breed, I found that comment acceptable as a way to describe the unique movement of an Italian Greyhound. So, why did this person say that my IG pranced?
One key feature to identify an Italian Greyhound is its distinctive and unique high stepping movement that sets it apart from other Sighthounds.
The AKC Italian Greyhound Breed Standard uses very few words to describe the Italian Greyhound’s movement:
“Action: High stepping and free, front and hind legs to move forward in a straight line.”
Italian Greyhound’s movement has been discussed and debated for longer than I have been involved in the breed. I have copies of published articles and books dating back to the 1960s that discuss movement, but interestingly, almost all of the authors describe movement with similar explanations and leave the reader with the same visual picture of a correctly moving IG.
Italian Greyhound’s History and Origins
Before I get into specifics discussing IG front movement, I feel it is very important to remind you of some history and original purpose of the breed.
The Italian Greyhound is a sighthound in miniature, originating over 2,000 years ago. The IG is not a bred-down version of the Greyhound, but rather, the two breeds share common ancestors. There is no documented evidence whether the IG was bred to be a small game hunter or a companion. Most likely it was a combination of both.
By the Middle Ages, the IG was distributed throughout Southern Europe, owned by the nobility, and were companions as well as hunters of small prey. In 1626, Francesco Birago, an Italian nobleman, wrote of the “Greyhound of Italy” being a companion and hunting dog standing 17″ to 19″ tall. Since the Whippet breed did not exist in the 1600s, it is presumed that this book is describing an ancestor of the Italian Greyhound.
In the 1800’s Victorian Era, small Toy dogs were fashionable. So, the IG size started getting smaller and the breed was no longer used for hunting.
In the early 1900s, IG breeders across the world started breeding back to basics for a more physically sound and healthy dog, moving away from the fragile Toy version that had been popular in the 1800s.
My reason for bringing up the history of the breed is to remind you that the breed originally had to be structurally sound to be an efficient running dog capable of bringing down small prey.
Since the written Breed Standard does not provide a detailed explanation of IG movement, it is the role of breeders, exhibitors, mentors, and Judge’s Education to provide the guidelines, examples, and explanations that will provide the descriptive details needed to identify correct Italian Greyhound movement.
I have had many conversations with judges learning about our breed who, even after lengthy study and educational programs, still do not understand or have a good visual picture of correct Italian Greyhound front movement. So, the Judge’s Education Committee has strengthened the IG educational materials to provide more detail on interpreting “high stepping and free” IG movement.
One tool that has been used over the years is a clock face with an IG silhouette to demonstrate the preferred high stepping range. Although some will disagree, most IG breeders/exhibitors identify high stepping to be lift that falls in between 3:00 and 4:00 or, if you prefer, 8:00 and 9:00 on the clock face. (You may also see some clock illustrations use the minutes rather than hours; i.e., 12:15, 12:16, 12:17, etc.).
This does not mean that movement above or below that range is not correct, but it is not in the “preferred” range. So, at what point do we ask, “How high is too high?” That question does not seem to have an easy answer.
Correct front movement is a combination of many factors that include shoulder bone, ligaments and muscle structure, and shoulder blade layback/angulation. In addition, the structure of the neck, topline, and ribcage play a large part in high stepping and free movement.
Judging the Movement
When examining or evaluating an Italian Greyhound, you cannot look at just the shoulder layback to determine that the dog will be high stepping. The front legs should exhibit a high stepping lift with a smooth, forward-reaching movement and a slight bend/flex of the wrist joint on the upward lift motion. Correct shoulder blade angulation plays a key role in allowing the front legs to reach forward. The front legs should not lift from the elbow, but rather, move as an extension of the shoulder blade.
Care must be taken when identifying correct high stepping front action of an Italian Greyhound to ensure that you do not reward a dog with hackney-like or goose stepping movement. The IG does not move with a hackney or hackney-like motion. The Standard does not include the word “hackney.”
Hackney movement is usually accompanied by straight shoulders and involves a high lifting of the front feet accompanied by extreme flexing of the wrist. This front action is matched by high knee action in the rear. With hackney movement, the front and rear feet come down nearly where they left the ground, resulting in an inefficient movement that lacks reach and drive and wastes energy, thereby lessening endurance. Can you imagine a Sighthound with hackney movement on a coursing field or running an agility course? Without free-moving reach and drive, the dog would likely be unable to perform well.
Goose stepping can be viewed as “high stepping” but is not a “free” movement. Goose stepping has an accentuated front lift with no bend at the wrist, which causes there to be a full extension of the front pasterns and feet before touching down on the ground. This results in a stiff, choppy, bouncy motion.
Although not a high stepping gait, an Italian Greyhound with “daisy clipping” movement is not correct, as the Standard calls for a high stepping action. Daisy clipping is movement where the front and rear feet move efficiently close to the ground. (Picture a Whippet at a trot.) If the IG moves like a Whippet, it is not correct.
One final comment about high stepping front movement: Whenever legs are lifted too high, excess energy is used and efficiency is substantially reduced. Due to muscling that runs from the head to the upper arm, the higher a head is held up by a handler, the higher the front paws will be lifted. I am not saying that an IG should be shown on a loose lead, as I feel there is a loss of control of the dog on the move (unless you have a superbly trained IG); however, if the dog is structurally correct, there should be no reason to “string the dog up” to attain higher lift.
So, how does the “and free” play into correct IG front movement? Quite simply, “free” action can best be described as an uninhibited, easy, smooth, and untiring movement. No matter how high stepping the IG front is, it needs to have a free-moving, effortless motion; no hesitation, no bounce, no pounding. It has to be a smooth, free action that looks like they could go on long walks (or hunts) without tiring.
In the past few years, I have observed that some breeders are focused on producing IGs with extreme front lift, sometimes higher than the “preferred” range. Dogs with extreme high lift have a higher degree of shoulder angulation that is being matched with extreme rear angulation in order to be balanced. The Standard does call for “well-bent stifles,” which are needed for strong rear drive on running breeds; however, the extreme rear angulation in IGs is resulting in a dog that looks like it is crouching in the rear. This is changing the overall graceful and elegant silhouette of the breed.
In summary, the Standard describes the Italian Greyhound as a dog of ideal elegance and grace. The IG should exude grace and elegance while standing as well as on the move. The standing silhouette offers the observer a view of the body’s symmetrical “S” curves, with all structural parts fitting cleanly and smoothly into each other—everything in moderation and with no extremes. Correct high stepping and free movement plays an equal part in the total picture of a graceful and elegant IG. Please take a moment to come observe and meet the IG at your next show.
Are you looking for an Italian Greyhound puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home an Italian Greyhound dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
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